family

Roasting Pigs

I was in my old family house, and my dad's whole extended family were there, but the house was different - it was much larger, and full of strange rooms and corridors that I didn't remember. It was full of people, as if for a party. My dad arrived home after a long day at work - he was very tired, and there was so much distance between us that it made me sad, and put me in a bad mood. I started to sulk, just like when my favourite uncle got married when I was 14, and I refused to smile in the photographs.

Two psychiatrists that had arrived at the house for a conference walked in to the room accompanied by my mother, and one of them told me that I should open up and talk about my feelings. I yelled at him to shut up, but that made my dad angry. He told me not to be so rude. I told him that he had no right to talk to me like that any more, because of the distance between us, and he got very sad and agitated, saying that he wished that people would just leave him alone when he came home from work, because he was so tired, and he had nothing to look forward to at home except more demands on him - to cook, clean, talk, deal with problems. Right now, he said, he was trying to cook dinner.

I felt sorry and ashamed, and I saw how much stress and labour he had in his life, and even though I knew that he had kept me at this emotional distance, I couldn't stay angry with him. I hugged him and told him I was sorry, crying a little, and he hugged me back, and for a moment we truly connected - for the first time in years. We were looking at each other and really allowing the other to see the naked emotional person underneath the mask. Just then one of the psychiatrists walked in and saw us, and he nodded and smiled, as if to say "my work here is done."

My dad and I went into the kitchen. He was roasting two entire, enormous pigs on spits in a huge oven full of orange-hot coals and flames. He turned them and made adjustments to the heat, and then he left me there is the kitchen because he had other things to attend to. Suddenly Liadain was there, and I watched her nibble on crispy pieces of the pigs' skin. She talked about how her family used to cook stuffing in chicken or turkey at Christmas, and how she loved to eat it. It occurred to me that she was eating pork even though she was vegetarian, but I figured it was her business and didn't say anything.

I went to look for my dad again, and found him sitting behind a judge's bench in a large room along with my mother and the two psychiatrists. They were part of a telephone panel, answering calls from distressed people and comforting them or offering solutions to their problems. This seemed perfectly natural to me, and I left the room because I didn't want to distract them.

The next time my dad came into the sitting room, he looked completely different. He was shorter and had dark hair, and he was much thinner and looked much younger, with a fresher face and bright eyes. He explained that he had lost 32 pounds on some kind of diet and had undergone an incredible rejuvenation. Rather than face the unreality of this, I just accepted what he was saying, and we started to horseplay. I picked him up and turned him upside down, and just then a nameless relative walked through the room and I called out, "Look! I could never do this before!"

I couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was wrong, though. I started to get ready for bed. I was looking for somewhere to brush my teeth, and I went into the conference room where the psychiatrists were, but then I remembered that I had a room upstairs with a basin, so I went up to find it. Next thing I know, I'm with a small Chinese girl who I must have met on the way upstairs. I was showing her all around the house. This was the old family home as I remembered it from when I was very small - full of dark, slightly secret rooms and passageways and musty smells and mysterious presences. I wanted to show the girl a picture of my father when he was younger, to prove that the dark-haired man downstairs was an imposter. "I like him," I told her, "but he's not my dad."

We walked along the long landing that led to most of the bedrooms. The carpet was a dull hospital green colour, and daylight was coming throught he windows even though it had been night just a short while ago. There were many family pictures on the wall, but none of them was of my dad. We turned a corner and found ourselves in a huge children's playroom and bedroom. The sleeping area on the left had a huge bed and great sheets and drapes which hung from the ceiling and billowed in the breeze of large fans on the walls. On the right was a play area full of brightly coloured toys and books and a rainbow rug. A tape-recorded voice could be heard telling a children's story. I knew that the room had been built for my cousin Mark, who was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy and was severely retarded. There was a picture of an older male relative on the wall - possibly my great-grandfather who died before I was born. The room had a very creepy, ghostly feel to it and we left quickly.

I pointed out some small stairs leading up from the landing, and the girl said "The post room is that way." I felt that we shouldn't go to the post room, so I brought her to my mother's bedroom. There were lots of pictures here, and I finally found a recent one of my dad, in which he was large and heavy and had greying hair. I showed it to the girl, and compared it to the man downstairs, saying "You don't go from this to that by losing 32 pounds!" She added "Or go from having grey hair to black," and we both laughed, and I said "Or from being 6 foot two to being 5 foot eleven!" We agreed that the man downstairs couldn't be my dad.

Just then the girl got agitated and told me that when she came into the house, she had seen a strange, unnatural blue light, and she thought this might have had something to do with my dad's transformation. I asked her to describe the light, feeling that this was very important, but just then all the lgiht in the bedroom disappeared for a couple of moments, leaving us in complete darkness. I felt instinctively that it was a psychic attack of some kind. After the lights came back on, to reassure both myself and the girl, I showed her a power cord as we were leaving the bedroom, and said "It's the speakers for the stereo - my mother leaves them plugged in all day and sometimes it shorts out the power." It was only after I woke up that I realized that my power cord explanation couldn't have been true, because the light that had disappeared and then returned was daylight. I think I just came up with my explanation so that I could keep a grasp on reality - in fact, throughout the dream I kept on finding rational explanations for insane situations, so that I could avoid facing the unreality of it - and presumably, the realization that I was dreaming.
 

The Dark And Smiling Face

I was in my old house again, living with my mother, and some of my old friends from school had called over to play cards and drink. I was showing some of them my computer while the rest of them were watching television, and I showed them a website like E2 where I was posting articles on famous chess players. One of them asked "What about Etienne Bacrot? and I typed in his name and brought up a java applet of one of his games. I explained, "Etienne Bacrot just won the French  Championships.

The guys were getting quite loud, and I knew that my mother would be trying to get to sleep so I turned down the volume of the music and the TV and went upstairs to see how she was. I saw that her bedroom door was open and the light was on, and when I poked my head around the corner she said "Hi there," so I went in.

"Sorry about the noise, I'm just kicking the guys out now."
It's fine, don't worry about it. I see you disconnected the Internet and then dialled in again."
"The first call was from a mobile so we dialled in again from the land line, it's cheaper.
"Oh, that's good. Before you go downstairs again, will you do me a favour? Tell me if you see the dark and smiling face.
"What's that?"
"Oh, I thought I told you." She laughs. "The doctor showed me how to tell if I'm sick."

She gets out of bed and we walk to the top of the stairs together, and she waits while I go downstairs and look back up at her. She's half-naked and grossly fat and pale, and she hunches forward so that her belly pushes into a strange, contorted shape. As I stare at it, the folds resolve into a smiling face with dark eyes.

"I can see the face."
"Is it laughing or smiling?"
"Just smiling."
"Okay, I'm still sick then."

She goes back to her room and I get rid of my friends and go to bed.
 

The Carnival and the Prison

Liadain and I were at a carnival, riding the roller coaster, and I've never been on a scarier ride. It went up really high and plunged down into this deep, dark pit, and then it went upside down in this terrifyingly fast loop, and we were all screaming, and it kept accelerating, so that the cars would tilt as we swerved around the corners, and then finally everything went blank.

When I came to we were in the water up to our necks, and the roller coaster was above us. I grabbed Liadain, and we clung to the car and started kicking for shore where a lot of shocked-looking people were waiting for us. At first I couldn't work out what had happened. Hadn't we just gone for a swim? Then I realized that we'd fallen off the roller coaster into the water. One of the carnival attendants helped us out of the water and told us what we had to do to deal with the shock - "Don't eat anything, and you can only drink this mineral water." He handed us a squashy bottle. "This water?" "That one." I drank some. It tasted vaguely lemony. Liadain seemed fine, and I only had a couple of sore places, but I had this feeling that we should have been far more badly injured, judging by the height we fell.

We left the carnival to head for home. We had a long journey ahead of us, through several towns with strange names, and in one of them we had a run-in with the police. I can't remember exactly what happened, but we ended up being framed for a murder that was committed by a military man called General Miller. We had a travelling companion, General Miller's daughter, who we thought we were friends with and she helped set us up. We were taken to the police station and were awaiting trial, and were feeling pretty depressed about it, when I realized that I could get out of my handcuffs. I took them off and went into the next room where General Miller's daughter was sitting. She watched me approach, scared, and I punched her. Or at least I tried to. My hand kind of slipped off her face. I tried hitting her several times, just to get the message across that she'd done a really terrible thing, then I grabbed her. "I didn't even get to hit you properly," I said, "but we're going now." I turned around and Liadain and I left the police station. One of the officers tried to stop us and I said "We are just going to walk out of here and you can't stop us. These charges are total bullshit and everyone will know about it. There's nothing you can do."

They followed us out of the station, but there was a large crowd outside for some kind of celebration, and I started shouting the names of the police officers as they followed. Finally I yelled, "And I'd like to thank General Miller for our stay in prison!" and they quit following me. I think I'd hit the jackpot with that one - he was an important man and they didn't want him exposed to any scandal. As we passed through the police station gate I felt a strange itching on my ankle, and looked down to see a pink tattoo appear there. It was the word "FREE" and a symbol of some kind, like a bird. I asked someone in the crowd about it, and they told me that it had appeared there because I'd taken control of my own destiny. I looked down again and it was already fading.

Finally we got home, except home wasn't really home, it was my old family home, and my mother and father and sister were there, as well as my old friend Lean and her parents. I'd hardly got there before I wanted to leave again, and we decided we'd go out for the evening, but my mother wanted me to water the garden. So I thought, anything for peace, and I went outside to try and get the hose working. I couldn't seem to attach the nozzle correctly, and my mother came outside and was standing over me as I tried to do it, criticizing me angrily, so I pushed her away roughly and told her to go mind her own business. This sent her into a panic because she thought I had tried to hit her, and she ran around the side of the house waving her hands.

I decided in a resigned kind of way that I'd better go get her and apologize, and went around the side. She was in tears, and she'd grown, so that she was now about a foot taller than me, and very big. She was still panicked, and she was holding a mobile phone. "I'm going to call General Miller! I'll tell them all what you're really like!" I took the phone from her and hugged her, afraid that she might actually do it. "I'm sorry I shoved you, but I wouldn't really have hit you, I was just play-acting." She seemed to calm down a bit, and shrank to her normal size and went back into the house.

I finished fitting the hose, and started spraying the bushes and the grass, and then I noticed my dad watching me from the kitchen with a puzzled expression. I looked at him, and then looked at the hose, and the garden, and realized how stupid this was. I was just pandering to my mother's irrational desires to make my own life easier, and I suddenly felt ashamed when I saw my dad watching me do it. I turned the hose off and went back into the house. "I'm not going to water the garden today. It rained twice today, there's no need." My mother replied angrily, "There was a lot of wind!", and I said, "Yes - it was stormy. Everything got very wet. We're going to go out tonight, and if you think about it and you still think the garden needs watering, then I'll do it tomorrow night, okay?" She seemed to accept this. I added, "By the way, Liadain and I got thrown out of a roller coaster this evening, we're lucky we weren't badly hurt," but no one was really listening, so we just left.
 

Secret Staircase

I was in my family's old house, staying in my sister's room while she was away on holiday, and while I was snooping through her drawers I found her hash stash. I knew we were going over to my granny's for dinner later, so I took some and rolled myself a joint. The hash was old and dry and crusty-looking, but I didn't care.

When we arrived at my granny's house (I must have been quite young in this dream, because my mother and father were together) they met us at the door and I hugged my granny. My uncle was there, the one who I idolized most of my young life. He was relaxed and happy to see me, and offered me a cigarette. It was badly rolled and bits of tobacco kept coming loose in my lips. I was going to smoke the joint with him, but then I remembered that I was off marijuana, and I reluctantly threw it away.

We talked about board games for a while, and then he said he was going upstairs, and that I could come if I wanted, because he didn't have any work to do for tomorrow. I knew my sister would be jealous that I was spending time with my uncle, because everyone liked him and he was her godfather, but I didn't care. When I went upstairs I discovered that he had taken over the entire 1st floor of my granny's house. He had lots of interesting stuff in his room - the shelves were covered with gadgets and sleek black stereo equipment.

I took off my boxers and was wandering around upstairs naked, when I heard my father coming up the stairs. I started trying to pull my boxers up again, but they kept getting caught in my feet. Desperately I yanked them up just as he came into the room, and tried to look nonchalant, but he didn't even seem to notice. We were leaving, and on the way down I discovered the cutest thing - a narrow little secret white staircase going from the top floor of the house down to the ground. I didn't know how I'd never noticed it before, with all the hundreds of hours I'd spent in my grandparents' house. I got so excited running down it that I jumped too hard and banged my head off the low ceiling. My grandad felt my head with his fingers - there was a big lump.

Later, the dream is much hazier. My father, my uncle and I were making a big bed, plumping the pillows and smoothing out the duvet. I think the bed was for my mother to lie down in. Something had made her very sick. Or maybe it was me. My head was badly injured and I felt ill and dizzy. I might have lain down in the bed and passed into a deeper or shallower dream, because suddenly I was swimming through a bright, clear cavern covered with coral and underwater plants. I pulled myself forward powerfully. I could breathe water just like air. I could dimly remember my story - I was on a great adventure, and I'd been hurt somewhere along the way, but I was recovering. I was a warrior.
 

Family Miasma

I'd left my family and friends to go and live the kind of life I'd always wanted to live, up in high mountain country with Liadain where the air was clean and time wasn't so important any more. But it seemed like it wasn't so easy to leave that life behind, because they all followed me - my mother and sister, grandparents and uncles and aunts, in a convoy up from the city for reasons best known to themselves.

I was trying to find Liadain so that we could leave, but my uncle cornered me in a small room and told me that he had found a passage in the Guru Granth that would make me have visions. I stayed to listen, and he read from the book with high drama, making me kneel down at one point. I really wanted to have visions, so I started to sway back and forth, trying to get into it even though I didn't understand the words he was saying. My mother and sister were trying to get my attention but I ignored them. Eventually my uncle finished the invocation and nothing in particular had happened so I got up and went to look for them.

To get out of the house I had to climb out of a large hallway window, and I got stuck, and a couple of my relatives tried to help me get down, but my uncle came along and told me to stop looking for attention, so I screamed at him to fuck off, which he didn't like at all. When I finally got down I went up to him and yelled "I'm sorry I told you to fuck off! OK? I'M SORRY!!" and then ran off crying, because everyone was being such an asshole and no one understood me at all.

Especially my mother, who was getting into her car and driving away because I had ignored her earlier. I caught up with her and sat in the car and tried to explain to her that I loved her, but we were never going to be able to have a proper, adult relationship if she was going to keep on getting upset over stupid things like this.

I don't know if she understood. The next time I saw her she was playing Internet chess with a man who was pretending to be John Wayne Gacy, Jr., who kept sending her disturbing instant messages which were supposed to be erotic, like "Now I'm cutting off your little finger, slowly," or "I'm flaying the skin from the inside of your thigh." My mother would make her move on the chessboard, and reply with flirtatious, coy messages. I didn't understand what she was getting out of the whole interchange, and I know it's not just because it was a dream, because I so rarely understand what people get out of the things they spend their time doing.

 

I haven't been myself

I haven't been myself
been passing myself off as this other guy
with a golden look and a smile
hiding behind his eyes in mirrors
that kind of thing

been hugging myself close to his wife
because she's so warm and soft
don't know if she loves me or him
she says it's always been me
but I don't know who she means

I feel like a ghost baby, just pushing out
everything's starting to look insane again
like it was years ago - insane and full of light
I wasn't trying to understand it back then
I was just playing

but was that me or the other guy?
he's a whore and a liar, a mobile mask
turned to mother as she claps and kisses.
she made him and without her he's dead -
no one else knows him or needs him

stuck down in the primal dark
I’m afraid I’m going stupid or crazy
I might forget how to speak, how to make
my face look normal, how to move my body,
how to be liked, how to fake it, how to fit in

I haven't been myself
been this mannequin instead
sneaked him into places using my ID
let him use my name and run my life
now I want to come back and he hates me for it

it's natural
he doesn't want to die
and he doesn't understand
when I try to explain that
he never existed
 

Gravastar

Like the dust in the corners of the bedroom,
I need to suck out enough of my dreams,
write them down, that what remains
won't choke me in my sleep. I am a cord
that binds spirits, feelings, handfasted
until they recognise each other, and dissolve.

The girl who lives under the bed, huddled
over her only book, unable to talk. My grandfather
crying, telling my invisible mother how sorry he was.
He never wanted to hurt her. That time
is like a dream to him now, distant and psychic.
How the setting sun shone on the cold grass.

The real and the unreal melt together softly.
A nervous little ghost, hovering uncertainly
at the door. A gravastar: raining light, matter,
energy on the darkness of an unknowable surface.
My sandwich in the park, shared with pigeons,
while the alcoholic woman ate old lettuce, slowly.

Buddha and Shiva struggling from the corners of my room
to enlighten each other, deep navy against pale brown,
while the lovers wander near the blue waveshore. The pagoda
lost in a rain of bamboo and willow. Our kaleidoscopic photos
of family and friends, our coffeeshop conversations, these words:
a meaning that no single thing can hold.

Reasons Not To Go Home

The city is drunk
and then there's me -
sober, surreal, softly
walking beside the viscid river,
witnessing:
her spangles, white and orange;
her patience, the way she gathers
everything in strange arms
as gifts for the ocean.

I have gifts, in a plastic bag:
a chocolate egg left from Easter.
A copy of Time Magazine.
Stray words in my mind,
which I will write down
because that is how I can stay alive.

My mother gave me the egg.
She wastes nothing, except time.
She never learned how to live
with time, and its gathering
of all the pretty things
to the mercy of their endings.

Alone in my bedroom, I can hear
traffic, voices from the street,
wind sometimes, and if it rains
I will leave my window open
and imagine that I am on a journey
across many miles of water.

I truly have no reason to be here
except that I'm waiting
to feel my lover's hands on my face -
I'm waiting to lie with her
and whisper that I remember her
from a lighter, more gentle place.

One day all the stories of me
will end, like the lights on the river -
maybe borne like funeral candles into the sea,
or maybe disappeared into daylight,
but either way, tenderly, without harm,
no one there to see or be afraid.

For now, I can only be a prayer
in the living darkness,
heard by silent companions,
stilled into the air's memory
even as I am carried without end
from moment to moment. And she
is the prayer that I am, the plea
that I make, the desperate language
that no one ever taught me -
no one ever needed to.
 

Juicy Acid Purple

Linda was little girls
27 years old dancing in a circle for happy,
playing patched-up Pink Floyd cassettes
on an old player with the batteries taped in.
She hung beads and stars from her ceiling
and baked bread cake on Sundays
when she needed to remember home.

Home was her parents and Ricky.
Ricky would pull a condom through his nose
and make her scream. She loved everything he did.
Her mother was Mammy, almost blind,
but still canny enough to make her way to England
to visit. Dad was going to lose his legs to gangrene
unless he quit smoking, but he wouldn't.
They did everything their own way.

So did she, getting stoned before her exams,
living with a beautiful boy called Stephanos
who named his guitar after her - in Spanish,
Linda means beautiful. Besides, he loved her.
We all played cards into the small hours
and I'd curse the worst I could
until I finally managed to make her flinch.
"Alan, would you kiss your mammy with that mouth?"

We went to Amsterdam and I wanted to trip, but
"All that's behind me now," she would say.
"I like my bit of spliff and that's it."
She told me her stories, days and weeks
lost in a different world of crazed friends,
sailing dangerous on the edge of insane.
She told me about Juicy Acid Purple, a colour
only trippers knew. I wanted her to describe it.
"I can't, Alan. They don't have that colour here.
It's just not part of the plan."

After an eighth of hash, I always thought she spoke
with the voice of God. It was the most
important thing in the world that I listen to her.
I just wish I could remember what it was she said.

I moved away and lost touch, like she'd said I would.
Later her dad died, and she went back home,
and all I found of her when I looked was a note
tacked to a board; a second-hand report
from a distant friend; little girl-shadows here and there,
holding hands like girl shapes cut into newspaper;
memories, dancing in a circle.

The Knight at the Nexus of Memory

Everything smelled perfect and everything
tasted sweet in my grandmother’s house -
Star Wars on rewind in the VCR,
my uncle's chess computer blinking in thought,
the grey afternoon light, gentle minutes
settling around me like mystical tissue.

In the cotton silence of her attic,
there was nothing of me except a body,
tingles in the stomach, an ache in the mind
for the world above the skylight
and its spaceships and alien cities, alien houses
for alien boys with no place in this world -

or rolling on the side lawn with my uncle,
trying to trip him, getting breathless and heavy,
falling into laughter with my cheek pressed
to the soft grass. He didn't know I was hiding
inside myself, scared and small with no powers,
no lightsaber, no invulnerable smile.

My little superheroes were a virus in my mind.
For every day of warm rain and every good friend
there was the knight at the nexus of memory,
the dancing samurai, luminous blade cutting images and words -
the vampire, the unseen bodhisattva dynamo
powered by prayer wheels and playstations

and always hoping for a simpler life.
No one knew he was there, and so
no one saw him leave, sad and empty: old killer
in a land of reincarnating immortals.
Everything he shaped is coming loose,
useless dreams I don't need to remember.